Stage is set for the story of the 1994 Rugby World Cup

Scotland internationals Sandra Colamartino and Sue Brodie recall the events that led to the creation of new play 90 Days

Former Scotland captain Sandra Colamartino.

OF ALL the major sporting events to have taken place in Scotland, the 1994 Women’s Rugby World Cup is probably one of the least known – and certainly one of the least appreciated. But all that is about to change thanks to a new play that will be performed at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre next month.

Called 90 Days, the play tells the story of how the tournament was created from scratch in a matter of months in Scotland after the original hosts, the Netherlands, pulled out. Screenwriter Kim Millar has written it and Liz Carruthers is the director, but the two women at the centre of the story are former Scotland players Sue Brodie and Sandra Colamartino.

Brodie, a winger who had already done more than anyone else to establish women’s club rugby in Scotland, was the one who, on hearing that the World Cup had supposedly been cancelled because of the Dutch withdrawal, decided the show had to go on – and on Scottish soil. Colamartino, who captained Scotland in their very first international back in 1993, both collaborated with Brodie and a host of others on the organisation of the World Cup,  and nearly three decades later came up with the idea of writing a play about it.

Every World Cup has its own place in history, of course, but the 1994 version was arguably the most important in terms of the development of women’s rugby worldwide. Had it been cancelled, the growth of the game would have been set back for years, perhaps longer. Only one women’s World Cup had been held before, in 1991, so there was no guarantee or presumption that it would be a regular event. But, thanks primarily to the Scots who organised it in 1994, it went on to gain a regular place in the sporting calendar, with next year’s event in England promising to be the biggest staging of the tournament to date.

90 Days, in which actors play Brodie and Colamartino along with two other players and a coach, dramatises the events that led up to the tournament itself. In essence, it is a story of rugby-loving individuals determined not to be ground down by a male-dominated bureaucracy.

 

Sue Brodie
Former Scotland back and chief Rugby World Cup 1994 organiser Sue Brodie.

Brodie explains the background: “The Dutch women’s union was integrated into the men’s and came under the jurisdiction of the IRFB [the International Rugby Football Board, forerunner of World Rugby]. That caused problems.

“The Dutch women, unbeknown to them, suddenly became expected to seek permission from the IRFB. Nobody had told them. At one point [in 1993] they were told that the next meeting, when they would hear if permission had been granted, was in March 1994.”

Deciding that would be too late to attract sponsors and set up the tournament properly, the Dutch had a choice: pull the plug on the event, or risk the wrath of the IRFB for running an unsanctioned tournament.

“Because they were part of the men’s union, the men’s rugby was also under threat,” Brodie continues. “They couldn’t jeopardise the whole of rugby in Holland, and that was the same in New Zealand – the New Zealand women couldn’t come to Scotland because there was a risk that the men’s team would be penalised in some way as well.

“So New Zealand and the Netherlands weren’t allowed to take part.

“Then in the January of 1994, each country received a fax saying the World Cup was cancelled, no explanation. But because the Scottish Women’s Rugby Union was not affiliated to the SRU – it was completely independent, as were most other unions, apart from Holland and New Zealand –   it was a case of just contacting everyone and saying ‘Right, who wants to come? Let’s do it here.’

“We knew what we were doing in the SWRU. We had a committee, we were organising leagues, we had our own finances, and we had a really good relationship with the SRU through their liaison officer, Gregor Nicholson. 

“It would only be a day or two after the fax arrived that I pulled some people together for a meeting at Todd’s Tap, the pub in Leith. The idea of not having a tournament to play in was just ridiculous. 

“It was very naive, but I thought ‘Keep the same dates. We can organise a tournament’.”

Colamartino takes up the tale:

“That was almost exactly what Sue said to us at the time. And we were sitting there, going, ‘Pardon?’ 

“But also within ten minutes we had become super-excited, because the disappointment, the devastation of not playing in the World Cup turned into ‘Oh my God’. Without a doubt we all left the bar resolved to do it, and Sue started faxing countries the very next day.”

Those were the days before mobile phones and emails, and Brodie’s nerve centre for the organisation was a small room in Meadowbank Sports Centre, where she worked at the time. There were more than a few obstacles along the way, but they pulled it off in style, and the tournament itself was a resounding success.

“Everyone around this rugby story has said for years it would make a great film, it could be a book, it could be a documentary,” Colamartino continues. “A few years ago I started a screenwriting course, but then lockdown happened and the whole thing went on ice. When I thought about it next a year and a half had passed. I went on a cycle trip to the Hebrides on my own, and I had this thought of abandoning the screenwriting idea and making it a play.

“I came back really excited, phoned Sue, and said ‘This is exactly what you did for the 1994 World Cup. It’s sitting on a plate, we live in a city known for its festival, and we must know loads of people who can help us do this. And the biggest thing is we’re in full control. Because we can probably manage that play, and we don’t have to wait for anybody’s permission’. Instead of pitching we really felt, ‘We can do this’.

“We then crowdfunded to see if there was an appetite for it. There was, we raised £20k in 80 days, so we were able to commission professional writer Kim Millar to write the script.”

Now, with just two weeks to go before the play’s three-day run at the Traverse, everything is in place. A number of sponsors have come on board, including the Bill McLaren Foundation, Levy & McRae, Scottish Brain Sciences and Culverwell, and an exhibition of the history of the World Cup will be on display at the theatre.

All three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 12-14 April – have now sold out, although a livestream of the Saturday performance will be available both on the day and for a short time afterwards for a small donation. Details are available at the play’s website,  90DaysPlay.co.uk

“I’m absolutely thrilled that we’re going to pull this off,” Colamartino adds. “It’s nervous excitement – I would describe it as like just before the World Cup. All that’s left for us to do now is to break a leg, as they say.

“I think it’s going to be a great show. We’re coming in on budget, we’ve sold out. It is exciting to think there could be spin-offs. Could it be a slightly longer show, timed to coincide with the World Cup in London next year? Possibly.”

 

About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

1 Comment

  1. What a brilliant story. I didn’t know anything about this kudos to Sue and Sandra. Hope the play goes well.

Leave a Reply

Please be respectful in your replies. Abusive language is automatically blocked. Your email address will not be published.


*